drew in a breath and reached out to her. “No
problem. It gets easier, I think.”
not sure that's true. I know that I have trouble talking
about what happened to me. I was trying to make light of
it at the meeting tonight. It's still not easy--even
after nine years. I still have flashbacks. Nightmares. On
the motorcycle with my boyfriend; laughing like we were
absolutely out of our mind! We were stoned, too... .
Seeing that concrete piling coming at me. Always in
slow-motion. Over and over in my
“...No, I don't think it gets any easier.”
Suddenly, Dawn swung around and got up, slipping into her
robe as she went over to the
“Want some Fritos?”
“Sure,” he said. Awkwardly and with effort,
he pushed himself back into a sitting position and
crossed his legs.
stepped back to the bed and sat down, extending the bag
of chips. “So how long've you lived here?”
she said as he grabbed hold of the bag. “I mean, I
never thought of anyone who goes to Amdahl College as
actually making a career here. There's nothing up here
but the college!”
“Well, there's the college, and farming, and places
like Gritzmacher's Lumberyard. But working for
Gritzmacher is only if you're totally desperate! ...So,
yeah, you're right. My dad was a math professor here.
That's the only reason we moved
“A professor? Super.”
“He was the chairman of the math department,”
Erik said, then amplified, “Well, actually, all of
the full profs take turns. Every few years, one of them
has to chair the department.
“We moved here from Madison when I was ten.
Everybody says that this's a great place to raise a
family...and it's true.” He was smiling,
remembering his boyhood. The forests, meadows, rivers,
lakes. Sunshine. Snowshoeing and sledding in the
wintertime. Snowball fights and snowmen and ice
“Sounds like you wouldn't like to leave,” she
“Not unless the college burns down or goes
bankrupt! Not very likely. No, I left once for several
years. Wandered around the whole country. Even Canada and
Mexico a bit. This is home. Wisconsin. God's country and
munched on a corn chip. Directed her attention to the
lean, sinewy man beside her. “I'm getting kinda
tired,” she said as her lips found his shoulder,
then his neck. “But before we sleep, wanna have
some more fun?”
November sunlight, brilliant and strong, crept beneath
the window shade several hours later and woke Erik. At
first he couldn't figure out where he was. His sleep had
been so sound and peaceful, and his eyes had been so
tightly shut that he had trouble opening them. When he
had managed to unglue his left eye, he saw her there,
mere inches away, curled on her left side, toward him.
Closed his eyes, then. Feeling warm and content with the
world. Pulled the bedspread up to shield his face from
the brilliance, and soon drifted back to
Sometime around ten Erik wakened again, this time closer
to his usual seven hours of rest at night, and found that
he couldn't get back to sleep. After several restless
minutes, he got out of bed.
Crawled around the bed and went to the toilet, then eyed
the bathtub and decided to give it a shot. If it was low
enough he'd take a quick bath.
tub was just low enough for him to be able to crawl over;
first left knee, then the right. A minute later the warm
water was thundering in, washing over his bones, soaking
the stiffness away. He washed up, rinsed, then let the
water out, and refilled the tub.
20 minutes later he heard her stir. And then,
“In here,” he called. “Makin' muhself
was at the door. “Why jus' you go right ahead an'
do jus' that,” she said. She asked if she could
come in and pee.
“Your tub turned out to be just the right height
for me to crawl over the sides and into,” Erik
said. He hung his right arm over the edge and managed to
haul himself upright. Pulled the stopper. “At home,
upstairs the bathtub is one of those old-fashioned ones.
On feet? Those kind are a bitch and a half to get in and
“So what do you do,
“Oh. Well, after I came home from rehab, my mother
had a room downstairs converted into a bedroom and a
modern bath. It works out.”
“So you live at home with your
“For the time being,” he said. “I've
been planning on building my own house. Customized. I'm
going to get the computer program that let's you do your
“But, for the time being, yeah, I've been living
back at home.”
got up and stepped into the other room and Erik got out
of the tub. Minutes later he was sitting on his side of
the bed, getting dressed.
Finally Dawn said, “The shittiest part of having
any kind of disability is how dependent it makes you.
That is, if you let it. ...And you've got absolutely no
chance at first.
“Like with me: I was in a coma for three weeks;
then it was another year before I could even walk a step.
It was three years and eight months before they decided
that I could go back and finish high school. Then three
more years at high school.--And, man, you wouldn't
believe how I fought to get to go on to
“Who'd you have to
“Mostly my mom. She didn't think it was 'socially
correct' for me to get out and do anything. But she
finally listened to reason. My Grandma Goldman was very
“Is that why you chose Amdahl? Here in the
boonies?” he said with a smile. “You're from
“Uh huh. Near Akron. I chose Amdahl because it's
reputation is at least as good as Oberlin or Reed. Or
Harvard or Stanford.” Her feet searched the floor
for her slippers. Silent for a few seconds. After she put
on both she said, “I guess you're right about me
liking it that Amdahl is so far from anywhere. It's
harder for people to mess with you up
said, “Unless you happen to live here,
that is,” with a laugh.
sat at the small round table and had Pop-Tarts and mugs
of instant coffee. Dawn apologized for not having
anything more substantial.
“I usually have at least some instant oatmeal that
I nuke along with my coffee,” she said. “So
you see, I am responsible and I eat a pretty well
balanced diet. But Fridays are when I normally get
groceries...and you called yesterday around one-thirty,
so--” She shrugged.
“This is fine. Really. Me, I'm lucky if I have a
cup of coffee in the morning. Weekdays
“Your mother doesn't fix you
shook his head. “Nope. She retired after my dad
died, and she sleeps in. Night owl. I take after her in
that respect; I'm usually not awake much before
ten.--Anyway, I get up and do the same thing you've done.
Nuke some instant coffee; have a couple
“That's a crummy diet,
“Yeah, but I'm not in very good health otherwise,
so no biggie. I figure I'll die of something like colon
cancer or heart trouble anyway....” His voice
“I don't think that's
said simply, “I wasn't trying to be
changed the topic. “I've got to be going pretty
soon. I've got this monster English lit midterm Monday
morning, and I'm nowhere near ready. I've got five or six
hundred pages to go over.”
“Well, I'll be on my way in a
“Bonnie's probably wondering if I died, or if I got
kidnapped by gypsies. Or maybe she's still humping Chad!
...I said I'd be over by
shoved the remaining pastry in his mouth and drained the
mug of coffee. “She'll soon find out that you're
safe and sound.”
“And feelin' good!”
“Ah, same here,” he said, smiling. He pushed
the chair back and got ready to swing
“Wait!” Dawn got off her chair and knelt
beside Erik. “Wait. I want to see what you look
like.” She presented her hands. “Do you
“No, of course not. But I can describe myself to
you if you want.”
“Yes. That'll help, but I want my hands to tell me,
too.” Her hands touched his forehead and she said,
“Go on...tell me what you look
“Well, ah... .” And after a moment's
reflection, he summarized, “Okay: hair is straight,
dark brown and medium length. Eyes green. No facial
“Your eyes are deep set and spaced wide
apart,” she said. “Nice brows.” Her
fingers ran over his nose, then his cheeks. “You're
nose is prominent, but not over-sized. Very strong
cheekbones. Are you stubborn as
“No, I don't think so. But then anybody who is
stubborn isn't going to admit
said, “Mm, okay. Everybody says that I'm
“I'd say 'determined'. I sense that you're a very
determined woman. Determination, conviction, persistent,
persevering. Call it stubbornness if you want, but I
think of it as being
Dawn's face lit up with a smile, then laughter.
“Hey, you're stubborn, all
hands explored his jaw, his chin and lips. Then she
lowered her hands to her thighs as she knelt there.
“Your lips are nice; not too thin, and you've got a
nice, square jaw line. You're very good looking,
“I've got my mother's eyes,” he said,
“but the rest of my face takes after my dad. A
hundred percent Norsky. ...Well, if you don't count the
Swedes and Fins and Danes and Germans who must be in
there somewhere along the way.”
crawled over to the easy chair in the corner. Dawn came
over and helped him on with his
“Maybe some of your Viking ancestors mixed in some
Irish blood,” she said. “When they were
pillaging some poor Irish village or
smiled; sat in the chair and zipped the jacket closed.
“I wouldn't be surprised. I'm sure Irish, English,
Scots, and whoever else. --You're part
“Half. My mother is Irish--Catholic; my dad is
Jewish. Well, German, since Jewish isn't exactly a
nationality. So I'm
reached up and put his hand on her cheek. “Whatever
else you are, you're positively beautiful.” Slid
forward and down to his knees.
was beside him. “You're really sweet, you know
“Sweet?” He said with mock disapproval.
“No man in his right mind wants to be 'sweet'. We
want to be tough and rugged and hard and--” But she
stopped him with a kiss. He responded by folding his arm
around her and kissing back. Deeply.
they separated, he said, “Thanks for everything,
Dawn Goldman. When can I see you
went over her schedule in her mind. “Well, I'm
super busy today and tomorrow and Monday. How about
“Can I call you? Maybe we can pencil each other in,
“Sounds good to me! Maybe we can get together at my
friend Bonnie's. Her place is on the ground floor.--I
don't think there are any steps,
“That'd be good. Or maybe we can go out to dinner
next week. Or whatever. Anyway, I'd best be getting on my
horse. I don't want to interfere with your cramming.
Especially not for an English lit exam; they're always
murder.” Dawn got up and Erik went to the door,
stretched to his feet and went out. Hobbled shakily
across the hall and caught the outside door. He spotted
the black wheelchair where he'd left it. He was happy to
discover that it was mild outside. Somewhere in the 40's
was beside him all the way down the stairs. It was easier
going down because the railing was on his left side; and
because at just before noon, he was still somewhat
rested. His left hand held onto the rail with an iron
grip as he went down, slowly, steadily. Then he was at
the chair and swung around and dropped heavily into
“Ah good, I've still got power,” Erik said
after testing it. “I didn't have many doubts...but
then, you never know.”
“So,” she said. She wore a black
“Amdahl College” sweatshirt, but shivered
nonetheless. Wrapped her arms around herself and hugged
“So I'll see you soon. I'll call you and we'll get
together real soon. You'd better go back inside.”
He reached out, put his hand to her right hand; squeezed
said, “Bye,” then turned and hurried back
watched as she disappeared inside. As if mesmerized, he
sat there, gazing at the top of the stairs. At last, he
pushed back on the joystick and spun around. Traveling
without a companion, he could go fast and was back at his
van in about a minute. Inside, he listened to the radio
as he let the engine warm for awhile.
“Emmanuel,” he said, thinking aloud.
“I'd better call first.” Then he was off,
heading the few miles northeast along Pine River Road
he neared the drive of a stately old Victorian house, a
black Lincoln Towncar pulled out of the drive and headed
toward Erik. He recognized the driver of the car and his
was Simon da Cruz, chairman of the chemistry department.
Recently widowed, Professor da Cruz seemed to have an
evident interest in Dorothy Sunstrom.
Lincoln and Erik's van stopped in passing; both men ran
their windows down. Da Cruz stuck his head out the window
and looked up; said, “Hi, Erik! I'm taking your
mother out to lunch at the Sands. Do you want to join
“Thanks, no. I just got through with
Dorothy Sunstrom bent down until she glimpsed her son
through the window. “You're all right, aren't you,
Erik? I was a bit worried when you didn't come home last
“I'm fine, Mother. I'm tough as nails,
smiled. “Yes, that's right, of course,
eased forward, said, “Enjoy your lunch, you
two....” Then drove on. In the side mirror watched
as the Towncar jerked forward and glided smartly
he turned into the drive, Erik screwed up his face as if
he had tasted cod liver oil. Mumbled, “God, you'd
think she'd choose someone better than Simon da Cruz...
What a sleaze! Bleah.”
of the trio of garage doors wound open and Erik drove in.
Five minutes later he was in the kitchen, punching the
pre-programmed phone button for Emmanuel DeForrest's
Emmanuel's wife caught the phone and handed it to her
“It's me,” Erik said. “Want some
company? Are you going to be
“Hi. Sara's going over to her friend's. I'm staying
home to work on a receiver. I just got through with my
yard work for the year. You coming
“If it's all right.”
“Sure,” Emmanuel said. “You coming
“Soon's I hang up. Be there in 20 minutes.”
Erik started to hang up but he heard Emmanuel say
something. Said, “Say
“I said: was Rusty right? Did you get lucky last
“I'll fill you in when I get there. ...Bye.”
Erik hung up, grabbed an apple from a basket and put it
in his lap. Then sped out the door to the
Twenty minutes further out Pine River Road, Erik made a
left on a gravel road, went half a mile and swung right
into a driveway covered with white gravel. At the end of
the sixty-foot driveway stood a small rectangular white
Emmanuel DeForrest stood on the stoop. Like so many
Native Americans, his frame was stocky. He wore a blue
plaid shirt, torn Levis, and tennis shoes that were
almost ready for disposal.
Somehow, though, everything hung together: his dusky
complexion, the shock of thick black hair that hung to
his shoulders. There were times when Erik imagined his
friend as a spokesman for the ruggedness that was the
few inches shorter than Erik, though thirty pounds
heavier, Emmanuel was a snapshot of patience as he stood
there, arms crossed loosely on his chest, and waited for
Erik to unload himself.
Erik's chair had descended to the driveway, Emmanuel
jumped to the grass and came over. “Tell me how it
went. I want to hear if you got
“I don't think I could have gotten any luckier,
the pair headed around to the back of the house, Emmanuel
said, “C'mon. Open up. Explain
paused at the crude ramp that led onto the back stoop.
“Well, first thing: the guy at the Disabled
Students Program is a jerk first-class for describing
this woman the way he did.” Emmanuel opened the
kitchen door and held open the screen door. Erik shot up
the ramp and inside.
“Didn't he say that she'd fuck anybody? That all
you had to do was ask for it? Hey, that's why you said
you were going to ask her out...
“Rusty Gingrich said she'd screw anything on two legs or
four. The guy's a mean-spirited prick.”
Emmanuel came inside and shut the door tight. “But
you said you got lucky....”
“Yeah, for once.”
“How was she?”
“Beautiful. I mean that in every sense of the
Emmanuel sat on the corner of the table and crossed his
arms. “Well, well: Erik's back in business,”
“C'mon, Emmanuel! You're making me sound like a
hound! --I wasn't like that. Not
“But you were, brother. Still are! Well, nothing
wrong with a healthy interest in women.” Emmanuel's
face darkened. “Just too bad--” He stopped
knew what he meant, but didn't want to dredge up
something that would send his friend off on a tangent and
cause hours or days of depression. Emmanuel picked up the
vibes, got off the table and went over to the
“I want to go back to the workroom. Get started on
that receiver. But first, you want a bottle of Old Squaw
“No thanks. I had four bottles last night. Or
actually not squaw piss, since I had the
“Leiney's Limited or regular, doesn't matter; it's
still squaw piss.” Emmanuel grabbed a bottle of
Leinenkugels and twisted off the top. Took a long drink.
Headed out of the kitchen and down a hall to the second
bedroom on the right.
small bedroom that looked onto the back lawn had been
converted into a workroom. Three benches crowded the
walls, atop which were various electronic test equipment,
several soldiering guns, assorted wires. Boxes of parts
and odds and ends crowded most of the floor
“It's kinda early in the day for a beer,”
Erik said as he followed his friend into the
“It's Saturday. Gimme a break.” Emmanuel
moved a box full of electronic circuit boards that sat by
the doorway and Erik made it into the
“It's for a friend of my cousin Lloyd's. You met
Lloyd--he just moved back from Missouri last
summer?” Emmanuel looked at Erik; Erik nodded, and
Emmanuel went on, “Belongs to a customer of
Lloyd's. Lloyd asked me if I could fix it and I said,
hell yes. But not for free.”
“How much you charging?”
“I told Lloyd a minimum of fifty bucks.”
Emmanuel took a long drink of beer. “Shouldn't be
more than that. I think it blew a capacitor right beside
“Be nice if you could get a reputation as a Mr.
Fixit,” Erik said. “There's sure enough
electronic shit around...that most people just pitch when
it breaks. Our throw-away society...
“Right. But I don't want a big enough reputation so
that it gets back to Ollie. He'd fire my ass so
fast--jeez.” Emmanuel put the beer on the
windowsill facing the side yard and grabbed a
screwdriver. Began unscrewing the chassis of the receiver
from its case. His hands were deft and nimble for being
so thick. In only a few minutes, the radio lay on the
Emmanuel sniffed the chassis and made a face. “It's
a fried capacitor, all right. Can you smell
“I'm too far away.”
Emmanuel brought over the chassis and presented it to his
friend. Erik took a whiff and recoiled slightly.
“Not as good as pussy,
“Like a fried I/O board, only stronger.
Nothing's as good as
Emmanuel took the radio back to the bench and stared at
it for a few moments. Said, “The one trouble about
fixing this kind of stuff is that you gotta have the
schematics for everything. That'll run you a fortune,
right there. There goes your profits,
“Maybe before too long the vendors'll realize
there's money in putting the schematics on a
CD-ROM,” Erik said.
“Yeah, well, that's out of my league.” A few
seconds later he said, “Tell me about this
wonderful new girlfriend of yours. Isn't she
“Yes, she's blind. And I'm a crip. She and I make a
logically good couple, the way I see
“Emmanuel! Really and truly, I've never met anyone
who's anything like her. I mean like, in her I sense this
depth of character that's hard to describe. I could be
wrong--it could be just my infatuated first impression.
...But I don't think so... . I don't. She's very gentle;
caring, I think. And intelligent, of course. She feels
for others... .” He fell
“And she puts out,” Emmanuel said with a
smile. He glanced briefly at Erik. “That's what it
really is. I've known you for too long,
“Hey, good-buddy, they all put out sooner or later.
We seemed to hit it off from the start, and I got lucky,
Emmanuel took his newest voltmeter from a shelf and
preceded to probe the receiver. “What's she look
“Very good looking. She's tall, and on the slim
side; not too skinny; great figure. She's got green eyes,
very deep green eyes. Long blonde hair. Down to
“Whoa! That explains it.” Emmanuel clipped
the positive lead to the frame of the case and set down
the voltmeter. “You've always had a thing for
blondes. Remember that cashier outside Tulsa? --But that
was an extreme example of your thing for blondes, I
“Well, same thing with you and Tex-Mex chicks,
shut him up for a moment. He took another long pull and
drained the brew. Then said, “We're talking about
you now. With me, different story now. I'm a married man.
The story with Conchita was a long time
said, “I wasn't thinking so much of
Conchita.” Then he wished he hadn't said anything
because there was only one other woman that he
could be thinking of. Marguerite, who was
Shoshone, not Hispanic.
“I'm sorry, bro,” he said quickly. “I
know you're still hurting.”
“Forget it. Marguerite's been dead a lot of years.
I think I've almost quit hurting over her.”
Emmanuel felt the heat behind his eyes, but ignored it.
Resumed his work on the receiver, and after a few moments
said, “This girl was blinded by a head
“Yeah. Motorcycle accident. She says that neither
she nor her boyfriend were wearing helmets. He died, and
she almost did. The doctors never expected her to come
out of her coma, but she did. Then they thought that
she'd be blind and deaf and paralyzed forever.... But she
kept improving. Everything but her sight. She said they
did brain scans that showed severe damage to her visual
cortex. But that's the extent of her
“Christ, I'd say that being blind is about as bad a
thing as you can have happen.” Emmanuel shut his
eyes, then covered them with his right hand. “God
damn! ...I'd off myself.”
“I don't think so. You'd adjust eventually.”
Erik heaved a sigh. “People adjust to all kinds of
“Like when I first realized what happened to me.
Where I was; how I was. Man, I was so fucking
depressed....out of my mind.”
“But I couldn't do anything. I couldn't move
anything but my eyes. --And think about how bad I wanted
to just fade away into
“Yeah.” Emmanuel brushed his hands through
his thick black hair, then dropped
“But, little by little, things started coming
back.” Erik's mouth twisted into a caricature of a
grin. “Unfortunately, my recovery only got so far.
--Anyway, same thing with Dawn. Things came back. As far
as I know, everything but her
“If it'd had happened to you, same thing. You'd
“I have my doubts. I still think I'd off myself.
I'm an electronics technician: I use my eyes to make a
living. Or you: what would you do if you were
blind? You sit and stare at computer terminals all day.
Now if you couldn't see...-- You
“I'd park outside of Donny's IGA and sell
pencils,” Erik laughed. “Hey, listen. You're
not going to bring me down from my cloud. Not after last
night; not after this morning.”
“You're love sick, man” Emmanuel said, and
poked Erik on the shoulder. “Ain't no cure for
that... until reality sets in. And believe me, it will.
Just wait till you get
DeForrest found them hunched around the workbench when
she came home a few hours later. Erik was holding a
circuit board carefully and firmly while Emmanuel worked
with a slender soldiering gun.
“I'm home,” she said, peering into the
workroom. She flipped on the overhead room light.
“Are you guys trying to go blind or
looked around briefly and saw the short muscular woman,
somewhere around 30, whom his friend had married two
winters ago. Her dark brown eyes looked straight into the
world from beneath heavy brows that she never bothered to
thin. They were attractive, deep-set eyes that contrasted
to her pudgy flat nose and unusually thin lips. Her
straight, ink-black hair hung barely to her shoulders, in
a plain and simple fashion. Blue jeans and a ski
some reason, she startled Erik every time he saw her.
“Hey, it's still light outside, Sara,” he
“Didja buy me more beer?” Emmanuel
“A case? A whole case? I'm down to my last few
“Yes, a whole case,” she said. “And I
got your favorite firewater, too, dear.” She went
down the hall to the kitchen.
“Got it,” Emmanuel said to Erik. “It's
a good join.” He blew on the underside of the
circuit board for several seconds, then took the board
from Erik's grasp and put it back into the
“Thanks, Sara,” he called. Added,
“Sara, I just made a clean fifty bucks for fixing
Erik he said, “At least maybe. Let's try her and
see what happens.”
“That sounds like a good
Emmanuel found the power cord, plugged it into the
chassis, and toggled the power switch. The radio crackled
instantly, then played classical music. Emmanuel let out
a war whoop and laughed.
“Fantastic!” Erik said.
“It was just luck that I had a spare capacitor that
worked. See, that's why it's good to never throw out junk
parts. You never know when you can use them somewhere
else.” Emmanuel grabbed a rag and wiped his hand,
then gestured toward the kitchen. “I'll buy you a
Erik turned around his wheelchair and headed into the
hallway, Emmanuel thought aloud. “I'm going to put
in new pots on the volume and tone
“To get rid of the crackle,” Erik
“Right. It'll make the radio sound like brand new.
It'll also give me reason to keep the radio another week.
Make the guy think I did something worth fifty
said, “Well, didn't you? Even if you used an old
part, you used your skills and knowledge to fix the
thing. You didn't go to that tech school for fun and
games.” She stood at the counter by the sink,
putting away groceries. Then looked at Erik for
confirmation. “Well, am I
Emmanuel kissed her on the nape of the neck. “I
think you are. What you say is the same thing that Ollie
says: people have to pay for the
“Ugh, the last thing I want to do is agree with
that piece of human garbage. I'd like to--” She
uncomfortable silence lingered for a few seconds before
Emmanuel reached for the refrigerator door. “Buy
you that beer,” he said.
“I think I'll take a rain-check, thanks. I want to
get home and do some things.”
“You sure? How about staying for
flared, “Emmanuel!” and her dark eyes flashed
with anger. “He said he wants to get home and do
some things, for chrissake.”
“All right, all right. I'll let him go,
then.” He looked at his friend. “Are you busy
tomorrow afternoon? Say, around one or
said, “I don't think I've got anything
“Then come over and we'll drive over to the spot.
Sara's working tomorrow--what? three to
“Right,” she said.
“Then we ought to go over to the spot one last time
this year. The forecast is for the mid-60's or maybe
warmer. Then Monday night we get another
was already heading for the back door. He said goodnight
to Sara, went out and headed down the ramp after Emmanuel
opened the doors. The chill of the approaching night was
already sharp in the air. The sun was a blaze of orange
on the horizon as the men headed toward the van.
“I'm volunteering at Lloyd's grocery in the
morning,” Emmanuel said.
“Why in hell he ever gave up
teaching college to move back here and fart around with a
grocery store, I just don't
“Maybe he wanted to get back close to his people...
Emmanuel ran his hands through his hair. Heaved a sigh.
“Maybe. It sure beats me. I sure can't figure
people out.” He spat on the grass, glanced at the
house, then back at Erik.
lift was down and Erik turned around and backed onto it
so he faced his friend as the lift cranked back up. When
the lift was up, Erik raised his hand in parting, then
backed up, turned and headed for the driver's seat.
Emmanuel was waiting by the window as Erik transferred
with a vigorous hop. He ran the window
“Thanks for helping me,
“Help! what help? Any time,
Emmanuel turned and trod back the way he had come.
Moving, it seemed, almost in slow motion, with lumbering
started the engine and sat there for several moments,
pondering wordlessly. Finally put the van in reverse and
headed for home.
“Why are you wearing that heavy leather
jacket?” Dorothy Sunstrom said as her son came in
from the garage. “It was warm out today.” She
stood by the doorway into the dining room, a magazine in
Erik worked himself free of the jacket, he gazed at his
tall woman of 59, square-jawed and rough hewn, wearing a
green turtleneck and brown corduroys. Years of tough
living had drawn her hard and lean. Her hair was cropped
stylishly short and tinted to the light brown color it
had been 40 years ago. Her face was surprisingly free
from signs of aging, something she ascribed to her will
to refuse to grow old and decrepit.
“It's down to 38 degrees,” he said.
“Just heard it on the
“Yes, but knowing you, you'll either have your
jacket on all day. Or off. You don't like to use your
muscles to put it on or take if
“Besides that, you're usually cold all the
time!” There was a trace of scorn in her
“Can't very well help it, Mother. I don't generate
much body heat sitting in a
“You would if you re-learned to use your right arm
and used a manual chair--until you re-learned to
walk.” Her green eyes aimed a piercing glance at
him; his eyes returned the determination. After a couple
seconds he broke eye contact. Dorothy rested her left
hand on her hip, briefly.
turned to head back to the living room but stopped and
asked, “Are you going to tell me where you were
“Yeah.” He smiled. “I had a date for a
change. We went to the Blue Note and listened to their
“I thought you were going to the brain-injury
seminar at the hospital last
“I did that. Took my date there too. She thought it
was really interesting. ...Then we went to the tavern,
and then to her place.”
green eyes narrowed slightly. “Well, if you had sex
with her, I certainly hope you used something. God knows
who has AIDS out there these
“Mother, give me credit for having common sense,
please.” He shifted his weight from one hip to the
“Yes...yes, of course!” She smiled. “So
when are you going to bring your new girlfriend over so I
can meet her?”
“Not sure. It depends on a lot of
Dorothy started to pose further questions, but sensed
that she wasn't likely to get reasonable answers. Her
husband had taken a similar ploy when he hadn't wanted to
answer something directly. In many respects, Erik was
like him. She turned and headed toward the living
“Are you going to fix dinner?” Erik
“You know I don't like cooking on weekends, dear. I
had a nice lunch with Simon, and just before he brought
me home, we stopped at Dairy Queen. --But you know where
“All right,” he said. Glanced at his watch; a
quarter of six left him plenty of time, he decided, and
he headed for his room.
Through the family room to what had been his father's den
and study. Now it was his bedroom. He went into the small
bathroom, struggled to his feet at the sink, and washed
in the kitchen, Erik toasted two slices of bread and
squirted on liquid margarine, then opened a can of
spaghetti which he dumped in a plastic dish. The way the
spaghetti came out of the can reminded him of dog
matter. He seasoned the pasta liberally with Tabasco.
Then got a clean mug from the dishwasher, poured in a
guess of a teaspoon of instant coffee, and filled the mug
with cold water.
While he ate some of the toast, everything else heated in
the small microwave that sat on the kitchen table. A
couple minutes later, Erik dug in.
wasn't at all bad for time it took to prepare, he thought
as he sipped the steaming black coffee. A bit of a canned
taste, but the Tabasco masked most of
flashed back to a time years past. He and Emmanuel
squatted close around their small campfire. Where exactly
was lost in the fog of time, but the focus of the memory
was the rabbit stew they had been eating that night.
Seasoned with the piquant flavor of
remembered how delicious that meal had been.... True,
probably because they had been very hungry--that more
than anything. Still...
“That was an interesting rabbit hole,” he
while later, the dirty bowl was in the sink, and Erik
prepared a second mug of coffee, this one mellowed with
some milk. He worked a few sandwich cookies from their
place in the cupboard, then managed to transport
everything in his lap. Made it back to the table without
spilling the mug.
heated the water in the microwave, and when he was ready,
sat there staring at his brown reflection in the mug.
Life was good, he decided. Given the basics, then
everything else was so much gravy.
Thought about Dawn and smiled.
“I saw Mil Dukrinis at the Sands,” Dorothy
called as Erik headed toward his room some minutes
detoured into the living room where his mother sat on the
colonial davenport, her right leg crossed over her left,
resting the magazine on her leg. “Yeah, so what did
the good doctor have to say?”
“I told him about the dizzy spell I had last
Wednesday afternoon. And the spell I had last Sunday. He
so much as said that I could drop over from a stroke at
any time. He said I should make an appointment to come in
and I said I would.”
“Did he ask you if you're taking your
Dorothy waved her hand. Then said, “Yes, and I said
that I was. Mil must think I'm just a dumb old
“You are taking your pills, aren't
“Yes, dear. Aspirin every day, even though it
upsets my stomach. I'm taking the Coumadin
“So, maybe he needs to adjust your
“Probably.” Dorothy breathed a sigh.
“Usually I feel so good! It-It just seems so
unnecessary...you know?” Her green eyes pleaded for
reassurance, and Erik steered the bulky wheelchair around
the delicate cherry wood furniture and went to the end of
the davenport. Dorothy put down the magazine, took off
her reading glasses, and went over to him. She hugged him
fiercely for several seconds. He put his arm around
“Hey...you okay?” Erik said
Dorothy nodded into his shoulder, then pushed herself
away. Her eyes were moist. “We're all alone in this
world, Erik. Everybody else is gone: your father and his
family, my parents, your brother. It's just you and me,
kid. As far as family goes.” Brusquely, she wiped
her eyes and stiffened her back.
“But that's life, isn't
nodded. “Yeah, that's life,
admonished, “Just never forget that you're a
Viking. You're made of tough stuff. You have good genes
and good strong blood running through your
smiled, almost laughed, and shook his head slightly.
“I won't forget.”
“I mean that! Every word. It was the raw North wind
that made the Vikings...it's adversity that keeps people
tough. You're not going to lay down and die; you're going
to go on. I'm one hundred percent certain that you're
going to make a complete recovery,
Dorothy's eyes searched her son's face, as if looking for
an omen. “I don't care what the doctors say.
Whether it's five of them or fifty, they're wrong. You
are going to walk again and run again, and have full use
of your right arm. You're going to marry a good, strong
woman and give me lots of grandchildren. Aren't
“I suppose it could happen.” It had been
months since the last time she had been so overwrought.
He wasn't sure whether to humor her or to comfort
“Anything can happen,” Dorothy said.
“We've got the power and the control over most of
what happens to us. Free will. And if you're will is
strong enough, you can have
said, she waved him off. “I'm sorry that I
distracted you from what you were going to do. Are you
going to work on your
“I'm going to tape jazz from Public Radio,”
he said. “...I may play around with my
Dorothy smiled. “Even your 'play' is beyond
“But it shouldn't be, Mother! You taught high
school for thirty years. Kids learn about computers in
grade school now, so--” He stopped when she put her
fingers to his mouth.
“I know that computers have been around since I was
a girl,” she smiled. They were alien then, and they
still are! I'll leave computers to the new
his room, on the built-in desk which ran the length of
the east wall, Erik loaded two 110-minute cassettes into
the automatic tape deck and tuned the FM receiver to the
public radio station in Superior. The Saturday night jazz
broadcast began only seconds after he tuned in. Once the
taping was underway, he went on to other
caught up on reading some articles in two of his trade
magazines, then for almost forty minutes he worked out
with the hand weights. His left arm barely needed any
workout. His right arm hardly moved. It took every bit of
concentration to grab the weight and bend his arm. The
fingers were stiff --reluctant to hold onto the
cylindrical weight. The biceps were
had been this way since the signs of recovery began to
show several months after his injury. Part of his left
side, especially the hand, arm, and shoulder made steady
progress; the left leg had been much slower. On the right
side, signs of rehabilitation were virtually
“It looks like what happened is that the damage to
the left motor areas may be irreversible,” one of
the physiatrists had said last
Dorothy had said, “But you're conjecturing, doctor.
You don't know that for
“With this kind of injury we don't know anything
for certain, Mrs. Sunstrom. For all we know about the
brain, there's ten times as much we don't
“So, if my son exercises every day--works day and
night--eventually there may develop some kind of
regeneration, am I right?”
“I'd say the chances are slim...but then, we simply
“Well,” she had said, looking at her son,
“I know that Erik's not going to give up. To
surrender is to die.”
Given that, Erik had begun a strenuous regimen of
exercise. A half hour of hobbling around the house on
crutches twice a day. Two hours of exercising both hands
and arms. By late August, having seen no improvement in
his legs, Erik resigned himself to the convenience of his
motorized wheelchair. By now, in November, his arm
exercises were reduced to a few times a week for less
than an hour each time.
Dripping with sweat, Erik let loose of the weight. It
dropped to the floor and rolled away beneath the long
table-desk. He glanced at his watch, then got to his
knees and typed the information into his
Without looking at the record from April, he knew there
was little improvement. But he checked anyway.
“Less than one percent,” he said to himself.
That's probably just my endurance getting better.... I'm
able to exercise a bit longer, he thought. He put away
the weights and climbed back into the
as he got settled, the jazz program broadcast a vocal of
“Someone to Watch Over Me.” The song Dawn had
especially liked last night. He felt a surge of warmth
thinking of her.
Wondered if she were home from her cram session yet. He
found her phone number scribbled on a slip of paper in
his billfold. Sat there, pondering whether or not to
call. Finally he decided to, and punched the number on
his speakerphone. Turned down the volume on the FM
After the phone had rung seven times, Erik was ready to
disconnect when she answered.
“Hi,” he said. “It's
“Oh, hi! I was just now thinking about you while
I'm fixing this sandwich.” There were some chewing
sounds as Dawn cleared her mouth. “I'm having a
grilled cheese. Well--actually, a nuked cheese on
“Sounds good,” he said. “You sound
good. It's great to hear your voice.
“I wasn't sure that you'd be home from your cram
session at your friend's, but I thought I'd
“I'm glad you did,” Dawn said, and took a
small bite of her sandwich. “I just got home ten
minutes ago. Bonnie and I were cramming like we've never
done before. From around 12:30 until whatever it was
twenty minutes ago. Man, my brain is absolutely fried.
It's like mush. Neither of us stopped to eat anything
besides snacks, so....”
“I've been there--”
“The thing is that we're maybe only half done.
We're going to get together here at nine in the morning
and work until we drop. Or go crazy. Hey, Erik, I just
had an idea.”
“You wanna come over and spent the night again? Or
am I being too fast and forward? And slutty?” She
added with a laugh, “I'm not,
“I know, I know that. Dawn, there isn't much I'd
rather do tonight. In fact, there's absolutely nothing
I'd rather do! But I'm home, I've eaten and I'm in my
room, relaxing. I just got through exercising, so I'm
“All right. I
“Not that I wouldn't do it again,” he assured
her. “I'd climb ten flights of stairs to be with
you. Twenty flights...” His voice
conversation lagged momentarily, then Erik asked when
Dawn thought she would have time to get together
“Oh, good question, because you know what? I've got
a history midterm on Thursday; then major quizzes in
psych and sosh on Friday. So, man, I'm sorry,
but my grades really mean a lot.
“I'm holding a four-point-zero,” she said.
“So.... And since this is what I'm building my
“That's super, Dawn. Outstanding!
“I'm free next Friday afternoon, like around four.
How does that sound?”
“It sounds like forever from now,” he said.
“Otherwise, sounds good.”
promised to see one another either late Friday afternoon
or Saturday and said goodbye on that
bowie knife sliced through the air and hit the birch with
a solid thunk. Emmanuel DeForrest went after his
knife, worked its five-and-a-half inch blade from its
impact spot, and carried it back. Emmanuel wore a denim
jacket over the same plaid shirt he'd worn the day
before. Unbuttoned, the jacket flapped briskly with the
“That's twelve straight bull's eyes,” Erik
said, squinting in the brilliant autumn
“I think I would've made a great warrior. I was
born 200 years too late.”
“I wonder what kind of Viking I'd have been, if I
was born a thousand years ago. Shit. I sure wouldn't have
been racked up in a car crash.”
Emmanuel laughed, “No, but some enemy might've
smashed you over the head with a rock. Same
“Yeah, well, at least it would've killed me.”
The sun was hot, but the breeze was still chilly, and
Erik buried his hands in his jacket
were at Meadow Park, situated on the bank of the Pine
River, a ten minute walk from the public schools both had
gone to. Some thirty yards to the east, the deep blue
waters of the Pine flowed slowly by on its journey toward
the St. Croix. The river made a steady rumbling, happily
whispering its passage.
of the deciduous trees were barren of leaves: the elms,
the maples, the birches. Pretending that their umber
leaves were still alive, only the oaks hung onto
brush and shrubbery was dry and brown, but the grass,
where you could spot it through the fallen leaves, was
still a vibrant green.
Emmanuel was debating whether or not to continue his
target practice. Finally decided against it, and sheathed
the large knife. “What I like about this time of
year is that we have the place to ourselves. You know? A
cold snap and some snow, and everybody else thinks winter
has set in.”
“Well, it's sure close. This'll probably be the
last warm day until March.”
“Right.” Emmanuel glanced over at his Jeep in
the parking lot. “You wanna eat
After a moment, Erik nodded. “Yeah,
and Emmanuel headed across thirty yards of leaf-covered
ground to the parking lot. It was a rough ride traveling
at a walking stride. Emmanuel noticed his friend bouncing
around in the wheelchair and said, “Don't worry.
I'm sure they'll pave this too,
“I'm not looking forward to
the Jeep, Emmanuel unloaded two grocery bags, handed Erik
one of them, then hefted a bag of charcoal from the
vehicle and headed back to a picnic table and grill near
where they had been.
Together, the pair grilled a late lunch of hamburgers,
heated a pot of beans, toasted the hamburger
“Want some?” Emmanuel said, taking a bottle
of Yukon Jack from one of the bags.
“You bet.” Erik held the bottle while
Emmanuel unscrewed the top; then took a sip. It warmed
him all the way down.
Emmanuel took a drink, then hid the bottle in the bag.
“If you could change us coming back home, would
question pulled Erik from his reverie. “You mean,
us two just staying on, drifting around? Or doing
“Doing something else, probably. It gets pretty
tough on the bones, what we were
shrugged. “I don't know... no idea. How about
“I'd have probably chosen something else. I'd have
gone on and gotten my degree like I did. But that's the
only thing the same.” Emmanuel turned over the
burgers and pressed them against the grill top. Stirred
“In other words, you wouldn't have been in such a
hurry to get married....”
Emmanuel looked around, briefly, then took the whiskey
liqueur from the bag. “Whatever.” Took a sip
and passed the bottle to Erik.
“Well, you were the one who was absolutely positive
you were going to be dead before you were thirty. I kept
telling you that was nuts. Shit. Can't tell an Indian
anything these days!”
Emmanuel poked Erik in the shoulder just as the latter
swallowed a hit of the YJ. Both men laughed. “Do
you remember what `kemosabe' means, pale-face? ...Yeah,
shit is right.”
couple minutes later, he decided that the hamburgers were
done and scooped the meat into the buns. Spooned the
beans onto two paper plates and gave one to his friend.
“Just like downtown,” he said, and sat at the
After several moments, Emmanuel spoke up. “I
dreamed about Marguerite last
didn't respond right away. Waited until he had finished
several bites of food. “It's been awhile, hasn't
Emmanuel nodded. “Yeah... couple
“You're thinking it's a
“I know you don't believe in that, brother. But I
do... I think.”
“What was the dream?”
“Oh, kinda like most of them,” Emmanuel said,
waving his fork in a small circle. “Marguerite and
I walking together in the hill-country. There were
several scenes from around Austin. Then us making it
under a tree.” He paused to eat a forkful of beans,
added, “What was different this time was that she
said she was still alive and waiting for me on the other
side. First time that Marguerite ever said
“I forget what I said to her, but right after that
I woke up with a start, man!
wasn't sure what to say, so he simply said, “Sounds
like an interesting dream.”
friends ate in silence for several minutes, each lost in
his own thoughts. At last Erik said, “So, are you
guys going to check with other doctors, or are you going
to take Mayo's word as gospel?”
“Sara wants to. She says this Dr. Greeley is
it in fertility... and since she's a
nurse--” Emmanuel shrugged. “--I guess it's
her call.” He shoveled some beans in his mouth and
shook his head. “She says she's tired of being
poked and prodded like a cow.”
“Hey, I can identify with that,
“She cried all last weekend after we got home. Two
days, solid. Since Sunday night she's been awful
“Well, it's got to be tough, considering her
upbringing. Catholic Church. And you too. How many in her
“Nine,” Emmanuel said. “Seven girls,
two boys. Her kid brother just got married, and already
his wife's got one in the oven! So I know what she's
feeling. But I'm feeling the same
nodded. “I know you wanted
“More than Sara, I think. ...Maybe not,
but--” He stopped abruptly.
knew there was something else. He downed the last bite of
food, then reached for the bottle that was propped
against the large left wheel of the chair. Took a sip and
offered the bottle. “Are you going to tell me or
not? Up to you.”
Emmanuel took the bottle, took a long pull and set it on
the picnic table. “You got to keep this to
“I don't want you saying anything to whatever chick
you're humping. Nobody!” His black eyes narrowed as
he looked at Erik. Erik looked back unwaveringly,
waiting. After ten or fifteen seconds, Emmanuel looked
down at the picnic table. “I think Sara is turning
lesbian.” Uttered nearly beneath his
“You think so because she's just not very
“That's part of it, Erik, yeah. But there's more. A
few months ago I found a book in her purse. By accident,
I wasn't snooping. It was something to do with
lesbians.” He took another swallow of YJ.
“Sara's been getting to be awfully good buddies
with this head nurse who's a full blown dyke. But there's
more to it than that. It's how she rejects me, it's...
.” But he fell silent. Shrugged.
“Well, I wouldn't jump to conclusions if I were in
your shoes, man.”
“She still won't go to a
Emmanuel shook his head. “She says that shrinks and
marriage counselors are the white man's way. Not the
Indian way. We've been over this a hundred times. She
teases me that I'm a pussy for even thinking of
“Sounds to me like Sara's too proud of being a full
“And I'm only half,
leaned back in his chair and gazed at the deep blue sky.
Said, “Jesus Fucking H. Christ, people are funny.
...It's sad. Well, how about you guys going to a
“I asked her about that. --We were coming home from
the state fair down in Chippewa. That was when she says
that she no longer believes in God. At least not the
white man's god. Not God; not the Church; not the saints
or demons or devil. And on and
Emmanuel got to his feet, stretched mightily, then sat on
the end of the picnic table. The chilly wind gusts
finally got to him and he buttoned his jacket. Tucked it
into his jeans. Said, “Sara's gone through some
major changes in the past year. I guess me
“Well, I don't have any ideas, Emmanuel. Other than
to say: just hang on and see what happens. Maybe Sara's
going through some kind of physiological changes. Maybe
in a few months or a year or whatever she'll be back to
her old self.”
Emmanuel seemed to slump. Heaved a sigh, and said,
“I sure hope so. I hope so...
There was an extended silence. Erik was in awe of the day
and the scenery; in particular, the deep green of the
Scotch pine against the blue of the sky. On an impulse,
he slid forward and swung free of the wheelchair and
knelt on the grass and leaves in front of him. Earlier,
the surface the ground may have cool, but now at 2:20
with the fierce November sun, the grass was
lay on his back. “This,” he said, “is
the only thing more beautiful than a woman. But it's
awfully close!” A gust of wind tussled his
“It is woman,” Emmanuel said.
“Our ultimate mother, right
“You know, this is what I miss most with
how things've changed. Staying inside with those fucking
computers nine and ten hours a
“White man cry too much,” Emmanuel teased.
“But still have heart of
“Yeah. We really fucked the Native Americans over,
anyway.” After several moments Erik asked,
“So what did you do with the receiver you were
“Hey! Got it working a hundred percent! Put in new
potentiometers on the volume and bass; that sucker sounds
just like it's brand new.”
“Great. ...But you're still keeping it for another
“Yep. Just to be sure. And so that customer of
Lloyd's thinks that it took me days of
“Well, the main thing is that the guy is satisfied,
Emmanuel. Then he tells his friends, and they tell their
friends, and before long, you'll have all the extra work
you can handle.”
“Right. Then Ollie hears about it and fires my
ass... . Fat sonofabitch.”
“Does he handle radio stuff there, or just
computers? I thought that he was just selling and fixing
“Ollie quit selling hi-fi equipment about two years ago. But
I signed some sort of non-compete deal when he hired me,
and I think it had something about me not repairing or
selling or whatever any kind of
Emmanuel stepped down from the picnic table and lumbered
around in a small circle.
“Maybe you'd better dig out the agreement you
signed and read it over.”
“Yeah,” Emmanuel said, and was quiet for
several moments before adding, “Wouldn't it be
great if we could open up our own place? Sell, and repair
PC's. You could offer contract programming. We'd be busy
turned onto his right side, into the lowering sun.
“That'd be great. But just about impossible because
we'd have zero health insurance, firstly. You've got that
back problem, and no insurance company in the world would
touch me. ...And secondly, I'm no
“It's a nice fantasy, owning your own business. But
to screw around with all the paperwork, and all the
bureaucracies. Hey, no way, bro. Just gimme a paycheck
and bennies and I'll do my
Emmanuel hunkered down by Erik's feet. “Lloyd was
bitching about all the paperwork and so forth this
morning. Says it may be a necessary evil, but it's still
“There's something I don't understand about this
guy,” Erik said.
“Didn't you say that he's from the University of
Missouri? Was a prof there?”
“Lloyd was an instructor, I think. He said he was
working on his Ph.D. for something like 20 years.
Whatever. Comparative philosophy, I think. Comparative
said, “Well, why on earth would he come back here
and open up a mom-and-pop grocery? I mean, it doesn't
Emmanuel said, “Sometime you'll have to talk to
Lloyd. Very interesting guy.
“Sara's been over to Lloyd's house a lot of times
since he came back home. She considers Lloyd an elder. He
isn't that old, and he's not a full-blood, but Sara
really respects him.”
“Hm, okay,” Erik said. “Well, one of
these weekends... . First
“Yep. Lloyd's dad, my mother: brother and
moved around and managed to get to his knees in front of
the sturdy wheelchair. With a grunt and a hop he was back
in. Got situated and rested his feet on the
“Cold. All the cold weather we've had, and the
ground is cold. Just the leaves and grass got warmed up
today. The cold finally soaked through.” Erik
stretched out his right arm, then grasped it with his
left hand and stretched both overhead. “What a
“Right. Indian summer.”
“I haven't felt this great in a long time,
“That's just because you got laid,
rested his head against the neoprene back of the chair.
Faced the full sun with shut eyes.
“Probably,” he said. “But I feel so
totally great about her...whenever I think of her. It's
beyond me. I don't remember having felt like this about a
woman. Not ever.”
Emmanuel chuckled. A smile spread across his broad face.
“Sounds fatal to me. Sounds like you're coming down
with a severe case of falling in
leaned her head inside the driver's window and kissed
Erik on the lips. “I've been dreaming about this
all week,” she said. “At least when I wasn't
“God, that's best thing I've tasted in 87 years!
One more, please.” He moved toward her lips again
and they responded automatically, her mouth warm and
was bundled in her leather coat, boots and mittens. On
her head, a stylish furry brown hat topped her flowing
blonde hair which was constantly scattered by the
“So, do you want to try to make it up the stairs?
I'll help you all that I can, man, but it is really super
icy. I slipped down two stairs just now--well, you
saw.” An ice storm that had begun last night and
had not subsided until noon had left much of Wisconsin in
“I love you so much,” Erik said quietly.
“I want you so bad I can barely stand it! Still...
.” He sighed and looked around. It was nearly dark
and the city streets were deserted.
“It must be a winter wonderland,” Dawn said.
“I remember how it was back home after an ice
storm. Especially when they closed the
“Yeah... exactly. It's nice if you can stay home
and build a fire. Watch from inside. I had a real tough
time getting to work this morning. --Well. Come on and
get in beside me.”
“Okay,” she said. She adjusted the strap that
held her purse and headed around the front of the van,
hanging on as she went. She slipped two or three times on
the ice, but caught her balance each time and a couple
minutes later she was in the seat beside him. They
greeted one another with a kiss; then
Erik's left hand trembled as he stroked her cheek.
“What do you say we just run off together? I mean
right now? So we can start sharing the rest of our
smiled. “Hey, I'll buy
“If only life were that simple,” he said,
more to himself than Dawn. He twisted in his seat and
looked toward the back of the van. Pondered the
situation. “Hmm, there's more than enough
turned toward the back, then searched the area behind her
seat with her right arm. As far as she could reach, she
touched nothing. Said, “Are you thinking what I'm
“I think so.”
“Have you ever done it in your van
shook his head. Then said, “No. Never had the
chance. Actually, it wouldn't be that bad if we had
blankets or a futon or the like. In the back is nothing.
Just bare metal floor. Because of the lift. The van ain't
“Could you maybe run the lift down? Leave it
outside so we'd have more
“No, because I couldn't close the
laughed. “Yes, that would be a bit 'brisk' wouldn't
“Brisk to the ninth power, baby!” Erik looked
toward the darkening sky out the rear windows. “At
least it's almost night.”
“Hey, c'mon. Let's just do it. We're both wearing
warm clothes, right?”
turned around and started the engine. “I'm game.
But at least we're going to get off the
“Be our luck that a police car drives by and sees
the van rocking from side to side. Bust us for public
fornication or whatever.” He punched the van into first
gear and pulled onto the street.
couple blocks down the van turned right into an alley and
traveled fifty feet to a small parking
“Where are we?”
“A parking lot for a dry-cleaners. They're
closed.” He turned and threw the switch that locked
the doors. After he tuned in the college radio station,
Erik upped the heater to Hi and the set the fan to full
blast. Was satisfied.
reached across toward her then and kissed her gently on
the mouth. She responded fiercely; his fierceness matched
hers. Dawn's hands cradled his head while she kissed him;
his hand wrapped around her, and drew her body toward
was only a few minutes before he couldn't bear it.
Reached for the power switch to his wheelchair and backed
it carelessly away from where it was wedged between the
bucket seats. Then spun around to his
“C'mon,” he said. “Back on my side of
the van. Right behind my seat.”
“'Kay.” She followed him as he crawled a few
unfastened his cords and pushed them off his hips, then
lay back on the bare floor. Dawn crawled over him, then
slipped her jeans and panties below her
that instant a rumbling came from the far end of the
alley, accompanied by bright flashing lights. The noise
grew steadily louder as the vehicle neared the van.
The couple scrambled to get up.
less than fifteen seconds, Dawn had her jeans back up,
and was heading back toward the passenger seat. In the
same time Erik managed only to hitch his cords back above
his hips. A large yellow salt truck lumbered along the
alley, lights flashing, passing mere inches from the end
of the van.
After ten or fifteen seconds of silence, Erik exploded.
“God damn it! Of all the shit timing!
Damn!... damn it!”
“Jesus Christ, I thought my heart was going to
stop,” Dawn managed, with a forced laugh. “I
thought it was something like you said: cops going to
bust us for public fornication or whatever. What was
got around to his knees and managed to crawl over and hop
into his wheelchair. “It was a city salt
truck,” he said at last. “About the cops: I
don't think they're that desperate for
at once Dawn began to laugh. Her laughter grew wilder and
more contagious until Erik's tightness gave way to a
smile. The smile became raucous laughter.
“I just had this picture,” Dawn managed
between gasps. “This mental image... Of us, our mug
shots on the front page of the paper. The headline reads
'Arrested for Public
laughed at that. “Ah, now that's funny. ...But
they'd never convict us.”
“No? Why not?” Dawn wiped the tears from her
“Because. People don't think that the disabled can
have sex, that's why not. At least, not unless the cops
had pictures. Even then people'd say that the pictures
were faked.” He laughed again and after several
moments said, “Y'know, it's a great life if
you've got brass balls!”
“Hey, what if you don't have
“All right. Then brass balls or brass ovaries?
reached out and touched his knee.
drove his chair back up between the seats and she cuddled
close to his side. Rested her head on his shoulder and
stared with sightless eyes. “I think I'm falling in
love with you.”
turned and kissed her on the nape of the neck. “I've already
fallen for you, Dawn. Like a hundred ton of
bricks. I'm not sure if it was from the first time I saw
you, or last week after we were at the Blue Note. But
my God, it's hit hard.”
turned her face toward his and kissed him. Gently,
put his right arm behind her back and tried to force it
up and around her shoulders. Couldn't quite, so he forgot
about it and held her close with his left. “I know
that it's partly raw sex,” he said quietly,
“but there's a lot more than
caressed the back of his head for a long time. Finally
said, “Do you want to try again? Maybe next time
they'll have a tank go by.”
“Not here! I just had five years scared off my
“You still want to, don't
“Yes, very much,” he
“You want me to give you
grinned. “Only if I can return the favor.” He
separated from her, turned around, and transferred back
to the driver's seat. Adjusted the fan and snapped off
“So where're we going?” she said as the
engine came to life.
“To the Sands. It's a supper club with a motel.
Just south of town.”
“I've eaten there.”
“Somebody's bound to see us together, but what the
hell? We're both legal. Besides, I want people to know
that my schlong still works!” He punched the van
into reverse and began backing.
Suddenly Dawn said, “Sandra! Sandra's our
“Sandra? Is this the girl you were cramming
“No, that's Bonnie Firestone, my best friend.
Sandra's a blink friend who's still at the dorms. I'm not
super-tight with this girl, but she owes me a couple
favors from last year.” Dawn smiled to herself and
they headed back toward Timber Street Erik asked,
“Is she in a women's dorm or a
“Coed. Hartman Hall.”
“If we get caught, my ass'll really be in a
sling!” Erik laughed as he headed north toward the
college. “I'll at least get my ass fired if they
catch us... . But what the hey? You're worth
reached across and caressed his right thigh. Let her
fingers roam a bit further, then broke into a giggle.
“You're a horny
“Only when I'm with the most beautiful
little over five minutes later the van turned onto
Cavendish Way and headed toward the dormitories. Two
minutes later parked in one of the five empty handicap
“The entrance is around twenty feet to the right of
your door,” he said.
“Yeah, I can sense the front
“Really? I didn't know you had any light
sensitivity. That's great,
“It's just in the last year or so,” she said.
“The doctors didn't believe it at first. Until I
proved it to them.”
“Maybe your sight will come all the way
“May be; doubt it. The doctors didn't have any clue
either.” She took her white cane from her purse;
opened the door. “I'll be back,” she
“All right. How's the ground there? Super
“No. I think they've salted it pretty
cut the engine and watched as Dawn cautiously navigated
her way to the entrance of the building and disappeared
Three boys, likely freshman, came out the doors, laughing
and shoving each other. Slipped around on the walk and
laughed all the more. One of them made two snowballs
which he hurled at his friends; and in an instant he got
the retaliation he sought. For the briefest moment, Erik
wondered what his life would have been like today if he'd
just gone on to college after high school. Instead of
taking off with Emmanuel.
“Moot point,” he said to himself. Another
path not taken.
was reaching across to turn on the radio
when Dawn appeared at the entrance. He ran down the
“Erik?” she said, not too
“Yes,” he called. “Is it a
“Yes! C'mon! The dorm is deserted! --Well,
“Be there in a minute!” He ran up the window
and opened the rear doors, hopped across into his chair
and was on the ramp and descending. He was at the
entrance a few minutes
held the outer door for him, then caught the inner door.
The wave of heat was both unexpected and pleasant as he
lobby of Hartman Hall was virtually deserted. A lone
woman student had parked herself in an easy chair in one
far corner, surrounded by homework.
“Sandra says no problem,” Dawn said as she
led the way to a doorway toward the left. “She was
just going over to see a friend anyway. And her roomie is
gone to the Cities for the weekend. So we've got her room
until at least midnight.” Without much trouble
navigating, Dawn found the door and pulled it open for
Erik and he sped inside.
said, “The fourth on your
rapped on that door with his knuckles and it was opened
by a young woman clad in jeans, red jacket, plaid scarf.
Attractive face with scarred eyes that weren't
hidden behind sunglasses.
“Come on in,” she said, and stepped
went inside and Dawn followed, shutting the door behind
her. “Erik, this is Sandra. Sandra, Erik,”
two greeted each other.
“Listen,” Sandy said. “I hate to run,
but I'm already a half hour late. Look around and you'll
find stuff. Please use a blanket or something so you
don't get come stains on my bedspread. I'm washing
tomorrow, so it's no problem to wash the
“Sure,” Dawn said.
“Okay, well, I'll be back by midnight or one, so
you've got till then. Enjoy yourselves!” Sandra
grabbed her white cane from the doorjamb, opened the door
and stepped through, catching the door behind her.
Stopped just before the door shut, and leaned back
inside. “Oh, hey, listen up. One thing you've got
to watch out is for the resident witch. She's only been
here a couple months but already she's got a nickname:
the Troll. Bye--”
“Wait!” Erik said. “Wait, is she around
“Don't sweat it,” Sandy said. “She's
somewhere like with her College Kids for Jesus. Or maybe
its for the Klan. They preach anti-semitism.
Anti-Catholic and Mormons and blacks--but mostly just
hate Jews. Whatever. Just don't let her catch you, or
it'll be really messy.”
brief frown crossed Sandra's face. “Once I heard
her call me a dirty Jew, but it was under her breath or I
would've called the bitch. Linda's a real mental case.
That's her disability. I just ignore her.
--Anyway, enjoy, enjoy you guys! Byee-e!” Then she
“Rats. That tosses a wet blanket on things,”
bent over him; ran her hand over his head and along the
sides of his face. Found his lips and kissed his lower
lip. “It just adds a touch of danger, don't you
think? It's like seasoning.”
sought her lips hungrily and returned her kiss. Again,
the response was flawless. She was smiling broadly. She
got to her knees in front of the wheelchair, her hands
caressing his arms. Then she was unzipping his
“Oh, Jesus Christ!” Erik
“Now, now. Jesus doesn't have anything to do with
this, exactly. It's Dawn.”